March 03, 2010

Energy Innovation Summit and ARPA-E Update

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy (ARPA-E) invites you to the inaugural ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in the Washington DC area from March 1-3.

The summit brings together all the nation’s key players in energy innovation: scientific researchers, VC investors, technology entrepreneurs, large corporations, and government officials

The Program of the energy innovation summit is here

CNET has some coverage of Energy Secretary Steven Chu's keynote address

ARPA-E, which stands for Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, was funded for the first time last year. Its goal is to create breakthrough energy technologies on a relatively short time-scale. So far, ARPA-E has awarded more than $250 million in grants to companies and academic institutions, touching on a wide range of areas, including electric vehicles and underground storage of carbon dioxide.

On Tuesday, Chu announced that the ARPA-E is now taking solicitations for grid storage technologies to complement wind and solar energy, which are intermittent sources that can cause a significant drop in electricity flow in the grid.

"If you want renewable energy to be 30 or 40 or 50 percent (of power generation), you need much better energy transmission and much better energy storage," he said. "It is absolutely essential for renewable energy."

He also announced that ARPA-E has set up a program to fund development of air conditioners that are three times more energy efficient than today's machines.

Vinod Khosla (has a $1 billion energy venture capital fund)also spoke at the ARPA-E Summit.

Technology change in energy will happen faster than most expect because energy has now become a focus on technical innovation.

Khosla cited examples of companies that he is funding to demonstrate how technology can tackle the primary challenges in energy, which he said are coal, oil, materials, and efficiency.

Calera, for example, is a company that uses carbon dioxide as a feedstock to make building materials, such as concrete. Another is Kior, which is making gasoline and diesel replacements from wood.

More ARPA-E Innovation Summit coverage

John Doerr (Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers Venture Capitalist) said that the U.S. energy policy could be called the "sum of all lobbyists," a process that yields an inconsistent set of rules and chronic underfunding of research and development. General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt said during a talk on Tuesday that U.S. policies in many energy areas, including coal and nuclear, are unclear.

Greentechmedia coverage

ARPA-E will likely be a favored agency as long as Steve Chu remains Secretary of Energy. For years, Chu, who came out of Bell Labs, championed the idea of funding for advanced research. ARPA-E is run by Arun Majumdar, a former UC Berkeley professor who worked with Chu. What concepts might these two favor? It's hard to predict, but both worked at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, where energy efficiency for buildings was a primary topic of research. Majumdar also conducted research that led to the formation of waste heat start-up Alphabet Energy. Chu has also been a proponent of synthetic biology: genetically engineering microbes to produce synthetic fossil fuels or industrial chemicals. Amyris, which may file to go public soon, was fostered at Berkeley.

-Technological game-changers for the last century included: artificial fertilizers, the green revolution, polio vaccinations, antibiotics, airplanes, electrification, nuclear energy, transistors, integrated circuits, fiber optics, wireless communications, and the Internet. All of that innovation took place in a 100-year time frame, although some of the inventions were bunched up in a few decades. It wasn't a smooth path of inspiration.

Now imagine all of this happening in a 20-year time-span -- that is exactly what energy needs.

Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) has launched an effort to replace the mechanical compressors in refrigerators and air conditioners with thermoacoustic compressors.

Mechanical compressors, however, typically only achieve around 12 percent of the theoretical maximum. Thermoacoustic compressors can triple and more that efficiency rating because of the inherent properties of sound waves. A thermoacoustic compressor can potentially complete 10,000 cycles a second, according to Scott Elrod, vice president of the hardware systems laboratory and head of PARC's green tech efforts.

Cooling-refrigeration and air conditioning-account or 17 percent of the energy consumed in commercial buildings and 20 percent in residences, according to the 2008 Buildings Energy Data Book Buildings from the Department of Energy. Buildings account for 39 percent of total U.S. energy consumption and 76 percent of the electrical consumption.

If widely deployed in the U.S., the technology could reduce energy consumption for cooling from 7 BTUS to 4 BTUs, which translates to a 13 percent reduction of electricity consumption in the U.S., according to PARC.

Third Round of ARPA-E Funding

ARPA-E Press release on the focus of $100 million in funding

The three areas of focus included in today’s funding opportunity are:

1. Grid-Scale Rampable Intermittent Dispatchable Storage (GRIDS). ARPA-E seeks to develop new technologies to enable the widespread deployment of cost-effective grid-scale energy storage. While many valuable applications for grid-scale storage exist, this program focuses on developing energy storage technologies to balance the short-duration variability in renewable generation. By investing in the development of grid-scale energy storage technology, this funding opportunity will allow the U.S. to assume global technology and manufacturing leadership in the emerging and potentially massive global market for stationary electricity storage infrastructure. This program seeks to develop revolutionary new storage systems that provide energy, cost, and cycle life comparable to pumped hydropower, but which are modular and can be widely implemented at any location across the power grid. Specifically, two areas will be considered: 1) proof of concept storage component projects focused on validating new, over-the-horizon electrical energy storage concepts, and 2) advanced system prototypes that address critical shortcomings of existing grid-scale energy storage technologies. Ultimately, technologies developed through this program will be scalable to the megawatt and megawatt-hour levels of power and energy capacity. This program will complement other Department of Energy grid-scale energy storage efforts by focusing on technology prototyping and proof-of-concept R&D efforts rather than pilot demonstration projects.

2. Agile Delivery of Electrical Power Technology (ADEPT). ARPA-E seeks to invest in materials for fundamental advances in soft magnetics, high voltage switches, and reliable, high-density charge storage. These investments will be coupled to advanced circuit architectures, and scalable manufacturing processes with the potential to leapfrog existing power converter performance while offering reductions in cost. Specifically, three categories of performance and integration level will be considered: 1) fully-integrated, chip-scale power converters for applications including, but not limited to, compact, efficient drivers for solid-state lighting, distributed micro-inverters for photovoltaics, and single-chip power supplies for computers, 2) kilowatt scale package integrated power converters by enabling applications such as low-cost, efficient inverters for grid-tied photovoltaics and variable speed motors, and 3) lightweight, solid-state, medium voltage energy conversion for high power applications such as solid-state electrical substations and wind turbine generators. Deploying advanced power electronics could provide as much as a 25-30 percent reduction in electricity consumption – or 12 percent of total U.S. energy consumption. Innovations in power electronics could lead to significant reduction in costs, which would promote U.S. businesses through technological leadership.

3. Building Energy Efficiency Through Innovative Thermodevices (BEET-IT). ARPA-E seeks to develop energy efficient cooling technologies and air conditioners (AC) for buildings to save energy and reduce GHG emissions from: (a) primary energy consumption due to space cooling and (b) refrigerants used in vapor compression systems. ARPA-E seeks innovative research and development approaches to increase energy efficiency and reduce GHG emissions due to cooling of buildings in the following areas: 1) cooling systems that use refrigerants with low global warming potential; 2) energy efficient air conditioning (AC) systems for warm and humid climates with an increased coefficient of performance (COP); and 3) vapor compression AC systems for hot climates for re-circulating air loads with an increased COP. The unique challenge for the U.S. market is to develop technologies that can be retrofitted into current cooling systems. For developing economies, there is a large market for new cooling technologies. The development of these technologies will reduce GHG emissions and significantly increase U.S. technological lead in rapidly emerging clean energy industries.

ARPA-E’s first solicitation, announced in early 2009, was highly competitive and resulted in funding 37 projects aimed at transformational innovations in energy storage, biofuels, carbon capture, renewable power, building efficiency, vehicles, and other areas. ARPA-E’s second solicitation announced in December, 2009 – which has yielded nearly 500 concept papers – focused specifically on three areas of technology representing new approaches for biofuels, carbon capture, and batteries for electric vehicles

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dan Nocera talks about Sun Catalytix, the next generation of solar energy, and ARPA-E funding through the Recovery Act


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